Monday, December 17, 2012

Cultural Hypocrisy

President Obama's speech from Sandy Hook on Sunday night exposes the fundamental hypocrisy of our culture.  Here's a salient quote:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself.  That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.  And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.  This is our first task — caring for our children.  It’s our first job.  If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.  That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.  And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?  Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? [emphasis added]


This is, of course, a fundamental truth.  The whole point of "culture" is to raise children into virtuous, competent adults, and to reinforce by the continuous formation of adults the same virtues being passed on, in a manner consistent enough across time and space to be a shared and unifying vision of the Good.  Successful cultures are successful, stable, and enduring exactly in these terms.  People come to share this commitment to the Good that is envisioned, because it is demonstrably a Good, and because it tests positively against human experience.

But in this speech, Obama moves too easily from truth to truism, and thence to misdirection.

The truism is that threats of violence against our children come from outside, from disordered elements of the culture (like mental illness, or the apparent randomness of many forms of violence):

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults.  They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America....  As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice.  We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate....

This dichotomy is partly true, at the level of personal experience, and yet wholly false, morally.  Obama alludes to this falsity when he says:

[T]his job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.  And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

But if that's true, then there's not an "us" who try to protect children from violence and raise them in virtue, and a "them" who try the opposite.  Those who harm our more vulnerable members are also "us."  But from  the ambiguity of the superficial truism, the speech is able to misdirect:

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  Because what choice do we have?  We can’t accept events like this as routine.  Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?  Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

The misdirection here is actually three-fold.

First, there is the straw man of opposing "freedom" with "preventing more tragedies like this."  Politically, this is a false dichotomy because freedom - true freedom, virtuous freedom, not license (as "freedom" is often cast) - is what makes a culture strong and resilient.  Only a society characterized by humility, fortitude, and prudence is capable of reining in the impulses to violent brutality, without resorting to strict tyranny.  Morally, this is a straw man because moral freedom is essential to love, and to the meaningfulness.  Without moral freedom, life just is; neither good nor evil, but simply to be endured.

Second, there is the implied "big government" thinking, that only (or perhaps, best) the federal government is equipped to deal effectively with this problem.  This is typical of this president's work (bailouts, Obamacare, etc).  This is misdirection in this context to the extent that it belies the need for vigorous subsidiarity in making and enforcing good laws, and so forth.  (The whole question of proper care for the mentally ill can be hooked onto this point.)

Third, and most blatantly, there is the elephant in the room of abortion, and indeed of the whole contraceptive mentality of behavior without natural consequence.  Mr. Obama said, "Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?"  Abortion is the most grievous form of violence visited upon our children - in scale (roughly 3000 children murdered daily), in social damage (emotional consequences, lives and relationships gravely harmed, etc), and in moral damage (abortion justifies other grave evils, because if this person's humanity can be denied, then so too can this one's).  Abortion is a fatal cancer at the heart of our culture.

A society that teaches people that actions don't have natural consequences is doomed.  Likewise, a society that teaches that some people aren't really human.  A healthy society, by contrast, teaches natural virtue, respect for human dignity regardless of "utility" or circumstances, and the truth that love requires self-sacrifice.  A society that doesn't "accept events like this as routine" is one that also condemns abortion, adultery, promiscuity, infidelity; that also upholds chastity, the sanctity of marriage, and the high dignity of the vocation to parenthood.  Hence my opening comment about fundamental hypocrisy.  It is viciously hypocritical to condemn violence against children in a school, and to propose sweeping societal changes to counter it, while also promoting systematic, devastating violence against children in the womb, and resisting efforts to counter it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano, on Persecution of the Church in the Modern World - updated 11/28

Earlier in November, the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame hosted a conference on the current global persecution of Christians.  Archbishop Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, was the keynote speaker.  (Additional presentations available.)  Here's his excellent, accurate, and unapologetic talk (and as PDF):



Here's his thesis (italic text indicates quotation from the PDF linked above): [I]t is crucial to see that in the world of the present age, persecution of the faithful can manifest itself in a variety of forms, some obvious, but others less so. While it is necessary to remind ourselves of the obvious, we must also consider the not-so-obvious, for great danger to the future of religious freedom lies with religious persecution that appears inconsequential or seems benign but in fact is not. (emphasis added)

In this talk, he separates the interrelated ideas of martyrdom, persecution, and religious freedom.  Martyrdom, he notes, depends on two things: the fidelity of the believer who refuses to compromise the demands of the faith, and the intention of the persecutor: [T]he intention underlying the objectives of the persecutor is important to understand: it was to eradicate the public witness to Jesus Christ and His Church. An accompanying objective can be the incapacitation of the faith by enticing people to renounce their beliefs, or at least their public manifestations, rather than undergo great hardships that will be, or can be, applied if believers persist in their resistance to apostasy. The plan is straightforward: if the faith persists, so will the hardships. (emphasis added)  He also notes that the "hardships" can be not only legal or physical, but also social (ridicule, social isolation, marginalization).

Persecution is a slightly larger set of actions than those that end in martyrdom: Persecution is typically associated with the deeds preceding those necessary to make martyrs for the faith. While acts of persecution can mirror those associated with martyrdom, other elements can be directed to sustaining difficulty, annoyance, and harassment that are designed to frustrate the beliefs of the targeted person or persons rather than to eliminate these persons. It would seem, then, that the objective of persecution is to remove from the public square the beliefs themselves and the public manifestations without necessarily eliminating the persons who hold the beliefs. The victimization may not be designed to destroy the believer but only the belief and its open manifestations. From the public viewpoint, the believer remains but the faith eventually disappears. (emphasis added)  This is just the same distinction between "public" and "private" faith that we are seeing, as an attempt to change the meaning of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion (i.e., limiting it to freedom of worship only, but not freedom of practice of all the moral consequences of that worship).

In opposition to martyrdom and persecution, Religious freedom is the exercise of fidelity to God and His Holy Church without compromise.  He rightly makes the classic distinction, best made by St. Augustine in the "City of God," between the "two cities" of God and of man: At the core of this fidelity is the desire to be a good citizen of the two cities where we all live: the City of Man and the City of God.  Baptism makes us citizens of the City of God, but we remain "sojourners" in the world.  Worldly justice, then, requires making the worldly city resemble more (it will never do so perfectly) the true freedom and true justice of the heavenly city.  Freedom of religion, then, is simply that set of attitude and priorities, enshrined into positive law to the extent necessary, that allows one to be "good citizens" of both cities at the same time.  Without religious freedom, the inherent difference between the two cities results in opposition, hostility, and therefore persecution and martyrdom.

Abp Vigano puts his finger right on this point: The problem of persecution begins with this reluctance to accept the public role of religion in these affairs, especially but not always when the protection of religious freedom involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share.  This is precisely the heart of the issue.  A secular worldview assumes that religion is, in itself, problematic for the "city of man."  It rejects that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, ought to influence the culture, the laws, the State, etc., in the direction of "resembling more" Christ's true freedom and true justice.  Thus, the more forceful or radical the secular view, the more it is at odds with the Church; the less it can value religious freedom (replacing it with mere "freedom of worship" and vacuous "toleration"), and the more likely it is to persecute Christians, even to the point of martyrdom.

Abp Vigano lists several current examples of that sort of persecution, not yet to the point of martyrdom, and builds to this crescendo: An Englishman who found his way to the United States, Christopher Dawson (who became a Catholic in his early adulthood) still reminds us that the modern state, even the democratic one, can exert all kinds of pressure on authentic religious freedom. Dawson insightfully explained that the modern democratic state can join the totalitarian one in not being satisfied with “passive obedience” when “it demands full cooperation from the cradle to the grave.” He identified the challenges that secularism and secular societies can impose on Christians which surface on the cultural and the political levels. Dawson thus warned that “if Christians cannot assert their right to exist” then “they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture, but out of physical existence.” He acknowledged that this was not only a problem in the totalitarian and non-democratic states, but “it will also become the issue in England and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them.” (citing Christopher Dawson, “The Challenge of Secularism”, Catholic World (1956); emphasis added)

He then cites the same point made by Pope John Paul II in Christifideles Laici (1988) and Centesimus Annus (1991), and concludes very strongly: We are still a far cry from fully embracing the Holy Father’s encouraging exhortation [i.e. Christifideles Laici] when we witness in an unprecedented way a platform being assumed by a major political party, having intrinsic evils among its basic principles, and Catholic faithful publicly supporting it. There is a divisive strategy at work here, an intentional dividing of the Church; through this strategy, the body of the Church is weakened, and thus the Church can be more easily persecuted.  His last two paragraphs are an exhortation to resist this division, remain united to the life-giving vine that is Christ, and to protect religious freedom by living the Faith deeply and authentically in every area of our life.

Update (11/28) - The Holy Father touched on the theme of making the city of man resemble more the city of God, in his Wednesday audience today.  His approach is that of evangelization: Speaking about God, therefore, means enabling others to understand through words and acts that God is not a competitor in our existence but rather its true guarantor, the guarantor of the greatness of the human person. Thus we return to the beginning: speaking about God means communicating, with power and simplicity, through words and the life we lead, that which is essential: the God of Jesus Christ, the God Who showed us a love so great that He took on human flesh, died and rose again for us; the God Who asks us to follow Him and to allow ourselves to be transformed by His immense love in order to renew our lives and our relationships; the God Who gave us the Church, to allow us to journey together and, through the Word and the Sacraments, to renew the entire City of Man so that it might become the City of God.  Anthony Esolen also had a relevant article in Crisis Magazine recently.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Homily for Oct 17 - St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr

In the second century, the Roman Empire had a growing problem.  There were increasing numbers of these "Christians" everywhere, and they just would not cooperate with how the Empire did things.  And the Romans simply could not understand why the Christians held themselves apart like that.

Emperor Trajan
About the year 106, the Emperor Trajan, in thanksgiving for a great military victory, passed a law that all the people of Syria should offer a sacrifice to the traditional Roman gods.  But in the middle of Syria was the capital, Antioch, and the Bishop of Antioch was Ignatius.  St. Ignatius preached loudly, in his pulpit and in the streets, that Christians could not obey this law.

The Romans simply did not understand this.  Why couldn't the Christians do what everybody else did - offer the public sacrifice once, and then go home and follow their own religion in private?  Why couldn't the Christians compartmentalize their faith, like everybody else?

In our own time, our government increasingly acts the same way toward Christians.  There are many examples, but one of the most important instances is the HHS Mandate: that all employers must offer their employees, in their health insurance plans, the benefits - and "benefits" are in quotation marks - of contraception, sterilization, and chemical abortions.  And our government simply doesn't understand why we Christians cannot compartmentalize our faith, and perform our economic duties over here, in accordance with the law, and our religious duties over there, in private, however we want.

In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches us that, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." (Jn 12:24-5)  St. Ignatius used this very Gospel passage in a letter to the Church in Rome.  He pointed to himself, saying, "I am the grain of wheat."  He called the teeth of the wild animals which would kill him in the arena, the "millstones" grinding the wheat into bread, a bread like Christ's own Body, that would nourish the faith of others.  He wanted to be that bread, to nourish the Church and to change the Roman world.

St. Ignatius in the arena
And that's exactly what he did as a martyr.  The witness of his death for the crime of being a Christian and not committing idolatry nourished the faith of others.  It took two hundred years, and thousands of martyrs dying for Christ, to change the Roman Empire, but it happened.  In the fourth century, the Roman Empire became the Christian Roman Empire. 


That's why, when our own government was founded in the 18th century, it could be founded as a Christian government.  But if we want to keep it a Christian government and a Christian country, we need to change the hearts and minds of our neighbors, by the witness of our lives.  We may not be called to "red" martyrdom, but we still preach about Christ, or not, by the actions of our lives every day.  Our actions show what are our priorities, and the daily witness of our charity shows whether we love God and neighbor. 

We are the only Christ, that those who don't yet know Him, can learn about Him by.  We are the grains of wheat, and our daily witness for Him grinds us into bread.  Will we be a tasteless and worthless bread of no value?  Or will we be the bread that we really are as the Body of Christ - the bread that nourishes the faith of others?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith - some online resources

The Year of Faith begins today!  Here are some online resources that might be useful.

The Vatican's webpage for the Year of Faith

The Diocese's webpage for the Year of Faith

Bishop Nickless's Prayer for the Year of Faith

A Year of Faith Facebook page

A collection of videos for the Year of Faith at the USCCB

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican website

Read the Catechism in a year, with a daily email or app


Friday, October 5, 2012

Plenary Indulgences for Year of Faith announced - (Corrected)

The Year for Faith is a time for Catholics to Indulge!!  National Catholic Register is reporting the announcement of special opportunities for plenary indulgences (more on indulgences) for the Year of Faith:

"Each time they [the faithful] attend at least three sermons during the Holy Missions, or at least three lessons on the Acts of the Council or the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in church or any other suitable location. [There will be various programs and lectures on the CCC in our diocese, including all the study for the Catechist Certification program that many of our schools and parishes are beginning this year.]

Each time they visit, in the course of a pilgrimage, a papal basilica , a Christian catacomb, a cathedral church or a holy site designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith (for example, minor basilicas [several nearby, which might be so designated: Conception Abbey's Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (pictured here, courtesy of the same link), Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Basilica of St. John in Des Moines, Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart; plus at least three in Chicago] and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles or patron saints), [Trinity Heights and the Grotto in West Bend will probably be so designated, I believe] and there participate in a sacred celebration, or at least remain for a congruous period of time in prayer and pious meditation, concluding with the recitation of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, depending on the circumstances, to the Holy Apostles and patron saints.

Each time that, on the days designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith, ... in any sacred place, they participate in a solemn celebration of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours, adding thereto the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form. [With Bishop's approval, we can meet this requirement on our formation days.]

On any day they choose, during the Year of Faith, if they make a pious visit to the baptistery, or other place in which they received the Sacrament of Baptism, and there renew their baptismal promises in any legitimate form.”

The statement added that diocesan or eparchial bishops, and those who enjoy the same status in law, on the most appropriate day during that period or on the occasion of the main celebrations, "may impart the papal blessing with the Plenary Indulgence".

In addition to the above, we're promoting the praying of the Rosary during the Year of Faith.  A plenary indulgence can be gained by praying the Rosary in a church, as a group, out loud.  A partial indulgence can be gained by praying the Rosary in any other circumstances.  One must actually meditate on the mysteries (which is the point, after all), and not just go through the motions.  All the usual conditions apply; namely, the normal requirements for any indulgence are:
  • To attend Holy Mass and Confession within a week (before or after) of the event the indulgence is attached to,
  • To be free of all attachment to sin, and
  • To pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
  • No more than one indulgence may be gained per day, either for oneself or for others*, including the dead in Purgatory. *Correction - Indulgences may not be applied to other living people, only to oneself or to the dead; see Can. 994.  Unfortunately, CCC #1471 is more vague than this, saying only "Indulgences may be applied to the living or to the dead."  This is correct but incomplete. Thanks to T.H. for catching my error.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Round up: recent readings of interest - updated 9/19

Deacons are for proclaiming the Word of God, in word and in deed.  But we don't do that on our own, like liturgical Lone Rangers; we proclaim only in communion with our shepherd, apart from communion with whom we have no ministry, no mission.

Here's Pope Benedict proclaiming the Gospel during his recent apostolic visit to Lebanon. Text of all twelve of his addresses from this journey are at the link.
(Pope Benedict and Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch in the Basilica of St. Paul, Harissa; Reuters photo, from the link above)

Here's Archbishop Chaput proclaiming the Gospel in a more quotidian but still compelling fashion:
     Selfishness dressed up as individual freedom has always been part of American life.  But now it infects the whole fabric of consumer society.  American life is becoming a cycle of manufactured appetites, illusions and licenses that turns people in on themselves and away from each other. As communities of common belief and action dissolve, the state fills in the void they leave.  And that suits a lot of us just fine, because if the government takes responsibility for the poor, we don’t have to. 
     I’m using a broad brush here, obviously.  In Catholic social thought, government has a legitimate role – sometimes a really crucial role -- in addressing social problems that are too big and too serious to be handled by anyone else.  But Jesus didn’t bless higher taxes, deficit spending and more food stamps, any more than he endorsed the free market.
     The way we lead our public lives needs to embody what the Catholic faith teaches -- not what our personalized edition of Christianity feels comfortable with, but the real thing; the full package; what the Church actually holds to be true.  In other words, we need to be Catholics first and political creatures second. (emphasis in original)


Here's an interesting reflection from Anthony Esolen on subsidiarity and the way it's being consistently misrepresented in politics:
     The welfare state is a soft prison, a system of induced incapacity, to the benefit of the wardens.  It works in concert with public schools, another vast network of compulsions, whose existence is predicated on the assumption that learning, in children, is unnatural, so that only “experts” can fathom the mystery, and so that “good” parents will act as trusties, submitting to the authority and enforcing its often ridiculous and pernicious commands.  The next network of control is an infantilizing media, persuading people that they are stupid or fat or ugly, that they live in a shack, that they wear rags, that they need what the hawkers provide.  The last element is a diseased and counterfeit individualism: the promotion of selfishness and of vices that make true self-reliance, and therefore true community, impossible.

And, tangentially, here's part I of a very interesting apologetic piece on the Deuterocanon (the books of the Bible Catholics keep and Protestants reject).

Update, 9/19 - Here's Part II of the same apologetic piece.

And, even more tangentially, for a bonus, here's the free on-line quarterly journal, "Church Life," from the Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame - where, for the moment, a significant portion of the University's Catholicity is being consistently expressed (link to Vol 3, vols 1 and 2 available there also).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 anniversary reflections

Fr. Robert Barron had an excellent reflection a year ago, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on righteous anger, charity, forgiveness, and redemption:



He strongly makes the point here that the main difference between righteous anger and sinful anger is its connection with charity.  Anger at injustice, that compels more strongly the willing of the good of the other, is righteous anger, of the sort (as he points out) that the Bible ascribes to God.  But anger at injustice that clings to the harm done leads rather to some sort of vengeance, than to forgiveness.

One of the further things this distinction entails is a purification of memory.  As we know from our experience, we retain the memory of sin, both as sinner and as sinned-against, even after sacramental confession.  These memories can be powerful, and can affect our charity, often for ill.  It's very easy, in fact, to cling to the memory of the harm done, and to allow that memory to tempt us back into sin.  Often, when the sin is our own, we move from the memory back into the same sin, seeking even despite our (struggling) will and (incomplete) desire for God the fleeting sweetness of sin's illicit pleasure. 

But it's also too often true, when we have been harmed by sin, that, as we remember the harm done, we are tempted against charity to desire a comparable harm to the one who harmed us (or, perhaps, to a substitute "them").  In short, as Fr. Barron says, we desire vengeance, not justice.  Vengeance is so much easier than justice, both because vengeance doesn't require me also to change, the way justice does; and also because vengeance contains that same illicit sweetness of sin. 

I believe this is in fact extremely common.  Most of the time, it leads us to petty and instant vengeance, like yelling at a child who's disobeyed or dropped their dinner on the floor, or like cursing the driver who's just cut us off.  Most of the time, we recognize both that further acts of vengeance would be themselves a completely unjust escalation of the original harm, and that we don't truly desire that kind of harm to the other.  Clearly, this is good, in the sense that we are resisting the temptation to greater sin, even if we are giving in to the temptation to the lesser sin.

But that's precisely the issue, for those who belong to Jesus Christ.  If we thus justify at a personal level the lesser sin of "verbal vengeance," we cultivate the habit of anger separated from justice and charity, and we put ourselves in a very poor spiritual position.  We reflect very poorly the beatitude of meekness (the absence of anger, if not from our reaction to injustice, as we've seen, then at least from our motive in responding).  Socially, we slowly escalate the level of "verbal vengeance" that is acceptable, and therefore that is necessary to portray.  The more socially necessary it is to speak violently, the more abused and dominated are those who cannot do so (convincingly).  At some point, this tips from verbal to physical actions, and the cycle of domination continues apace.  This aptly describes our culture, in fact, and represents a key measure of the marginalization of our Christian heritage.

Thus, as followers of Christ, we need to practice a purification of our memory.  This can be part of our regular examination of conscience.  If we cultivate in the memory of the daily, petty harms inflicted on us the habit of letting righteous anger move to charity, rather than to self-serving vengeance, then we might be capable of the same in remember the more significant harms.  Likewise, when we are the ones harming, if we cultivate a desire to seek forgiveness and redemption in the memory of the little things, we might be able to do so in the more significant.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Two reviews of "Adam and Eve after the Pill"

Mary Eberstadt's book, Adam and Eve after the Pill, published this spring by Ignatius Press, has been on my list of things to read.  It's also been making serious inroads into the Evangelical communities, many of whom are in the process of rediscovering Tradition.  Here's a review of the book from a Catholic source, which says obvious sorts of things about its content and Catholic teaching; but also notes that non-Catholics (specifically, Evangelicals) are also thinking hard about this book and this teaching.  Thus, here's a review from Christianity Today, which is also a very good review and says surprisingly positive things about the traditional teaching against contraception:

As Eberstadt sees it, the contraceptive pill has launched us into a new age in which responsibility has been divorced from sex. And while it is easy to point fingers at the secular world for embracing this reproductive technology, Christians are complicit in its hold on our culture. Most Christians do not want to be told what to do with their bodies any more than non-Christians, and the Pill has made that freedom possible.

Undeniable Data

Eberstadt's final chapter sheds a different kind of light on current evangelical conversations about sex. As often as these discussions are taking place, and as important as it is to affirm sex in marriage, there is a distinctly individualistic flavor to these teachings. While church leaders should encourage marital intimacy in the bedroom, married sex (and the teachings behind it) can still have negative social ramifications. Using contraception is not a private act, nor is it a neutral one. Eberstadt's book is Exhibit A of this reality.

Knowing this, pastors cannot address the widespread sexual brokenness in our culture simply by encouraging married sex. They must also address the ideology and theology behind the brokenness, and contraception is Ground Zero for those discussions.

One should recall (as this review does) that all Christian denominations held this teaching up until 1930.  All those denominations which have rejected this teaching have done so only in the last 80 years.  So I am greatly encouraged by Evangelicals reconsidering this rejection (brief round up in this article), and the possibility of their reclaiming this part of the apostolic deposit of faith.

There's a further ramification to this, of course.  The more the biblical and apostolic rejection of contraception is shared by Christian denominations, the more obvious it is that the HHS mandate is not merely an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty on its face, but also it, and the Affordable Care Act that it derives from, promote active harm for women, and families, and the common good.




Monday, August 27, 2012

Sacraments class follow-up: Pentecost and Confirmation

In our Sacraments class on Saturday, the question arose, Is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the institution by Christ of the Sacrament of Confirmation?  I said that it wasn't - or at least, as I emended later in the class, that one can't see Pentecost just by itself as that institution.  Here's some more information about Pentecost and Confirmation to help us better understand what I said, and implied, and didn't say.

We noted in class that the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church at several points: the Incarnation (Lk 1, see Lumen Gentium 59), the baptism of Jesus, the various promises of Jesus to the Apostles to send the Paraclete, the Easter morning appearance to the ten Apostles (Thomas being absent), and finally Pentecost.  The final coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marks a profound change for the Apostles (and the other members of the Church, it is clearly implied), moving them from fear and confusion to a dramatic embrace of mission, and from that point, the Church continuously lives and grows under the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Lumen Gentium 19 calls this culmination a "confirmation in mission" for the Apostles: And in this mission they [sc. the College of Apostles under Peter as head] were fully confirmed on the day of Pentecost in accordance with the Lord's promise: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and even to the very ends of the earth".

So certainly the power of confirming others, and the effects of Confirmation for the members of Church, taken generally, are implicitly represented in the chain of sending the Holy Spirit culminating in Pentecost.  So if we say, "Pentecost is Confirmation," that's not a false statement -- but it's also not a very precise one, as LG 19 shows.  So the institution of the Sacrament needs a more precise focus, which has traditionally been found in the way the Apostles then use this gift and power to confirm subsequent to baptism -- specifically in Acts 8.  For example:

Pope St. Innocent I, ep. #25 "Si instituta ecclesiastica" to Bp Decentius, 416: That this power [sc. to confirm] of a bishop, however, is due to the bishops alone, so that they either sign or give the Paraclete, the Spirit, not only ecclesiastical custom dictates, but also that reading in the Acts of the Apostles which declares that Peter and James were directed to give the Holy Spirit to those already baptized [by Philip: cf. Acts 8:14-7]. (Denzinger, #98)

Pope Innocent III, letter "Cum venisset" to Archbishop Basil, 1204: The imposition of hands is designated by the anointing of the forehead, which by another name is called confirmation, because through it the Holy Spirit is given for an increase of grace and strength.  Therefore... only the highest priest, that is the bishop, ought to confer [this anointing],because we read concerning the Apostles alone, which successors the bishops are, that through the imposition of hands the gave the Holy Spirit [cf. Acts 8:14ff] (Denzinger, #419)

First Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1245), cited in letter of Pope Innocent IV to his legate in Constantinople, 1254: Moreover, let bishops alone mark the baptized on the forehead with chrism, because the anointing is not to be given except by bishops, since the apostles alone, whose places the bishops take, are read [again, Acts 2 and 8] to have imparted the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands, which confirmation... represents. (Denzinger, #450)

Almost identical wording is found in the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-45), in the 1439 document "Exultate Deo," on the seven sacraments, where the key passage of Acts 8:14-7 is cited in full.  (Here in this fuller treatment, we also see the possibility of a priest being properly delegated to confirm under some circumstances.)  (Denzinger, #697)  Trent didn't add anything to this; of the seven sacraments, Confirmation is the least treated by that council.  Vatican II makes the same point about bishops as ministers of Confirmation (e.g. LG 26), and treats the effects of Confirmation for the faithful elsewhere (e.g. LG 11), without direct reference either to Pentecost or Acts 8.

So the short answer to our original question is that Pentecost is not the institution by Christ of the Sacrament of Confirmation; the use of that power by the Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and in fulfillment of the intention of Christ, is that institution, as clearly recorded (separate from baptism) in the case of Acts 8:14-17.  The longer answer, though, looks at the whole sequence of the sending of the Holy Spirit, and sees in Pentecost a potent confirming or empowering of the Apostles in their special mission of leading the Church, of which the power to confirm sacramentally is an explicit part.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Preaching conference resources available

This summer, Cecilia and I were able to attend a conference on preaching at our alma mater.  It was a very good conference, and most of the presentations have been posted on You-tube by the Institute for Church Life (search for "Notre Dame preaching conference we preach Christ crucified" for the full list).  Not all are of equal quality, of course, but here are a few among the best ones we heard:

Fr. Robert Barron

Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB

Dr. John Cavadini

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, CSB (homily)


Friday, July 20, 2012

It's Friday... what's happening out there?

Here's a bit of a round-up of a few interesting things.

Robert George of Princeton has an excellent essay on how changing the definition of marriage must in practice also entail a loss of freedom for those who uphold traditional marriage:

Since most liberals and even some conservatives, it seems, apparently have no understanding at all of the conjugal conception of marriage as a one-flesh union—not even enough of a grasp to consciously consider and reject it—they uncritically conceive marriage as sexual-romantic domestic partnership, as if it just couldn’t possibly be anything else. This is despite the fact that the conjugal conception has historically been embodied in our marriage laws, and explains their content (not just the requirement of spousal sexual complementarity, but also rules concerning consummation and annulability, norms of monogamy and sexual exclusivity, and the pledge of permanence of commitment) in ways that the sexual-romantic domestic partnership conception simply cannot. Still, having adopted the sexual-romantic domestic partnership idea, and seeing no alternative possible conception of marriage, they assume—and it is just that, an assumption, and a gratuitous one—that no actual reason exists for regarding sexual reproductive complementarity as integral to marriage. After all, two men or two women can have a romantic interest in each other, live together in a sexual partnership, care for each other, and so forth. So why can’t they be married? Those who think otherwise, having no rational basis, discriminate invidiously. By the same token, if two men or two women can be married, why can’t three or more people, irrespective of sex, in polyamorous “triads,” “quadrads,” etc.? Since no reason supports the idea of marriage as a male-female union or a partnership of two persons and not more, the motive of those insisting on these other “traditional” norms must also be a dark and irrational one.

Thus, advocates of redefinition are increasingly open in saying that they do not see these disputes about sex and marriage as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of reason, enlightenment, and equality—those who would “expand the circle of inclusion”—on one side, and those of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination—those who would exclude people out of “animus”—on the other. The “excluders” are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. Of course, we (in the United States, at least) don’t put racists in jail for expressing their opinions—we respect the First Amendment; but we don’t hesitate to stigmatize them and impose various forms of social and even civil disability upon them and their institutions. In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.

Note how the arguments in favor of redefinition of marriage are, at root, irrational and arbitrary; and note how that irrationality translated into intolerance of those who defend traditional marriage.  I think George is correct in his analysis.  From this he concludes that we must continue resolutely to defend marriage, "evangelizing" as it were about this.  For us as clergy or future clergy, "evangelization" is exactly the right word, since we don't separate our arguments from faith and from reason, in practice.  But the arguments from reason for what marriage really is need to be used as often as possible.

On a related note, Joe Heschmeyer (a shameless papist) at Shameless Popery  lists three arguments against atheism from Pope Benedict.  These are nice capsules of even more profound arguments, and are presented in a very accessible way - the Holy Father is an excellent teacher!  (Joe's posts aren't too shabby either.)

Lastly, here are two parts of a four part series from San Antonio, on Martha Fernandez-Sardina's talk show, featuring Martha (who spoke at our 2011 Ministries Conference) and the irrepressible Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers (who has also spoken here in the Diocese previously), about Verbum Domini.  Some great stuff coming out in these two talks; well worth a viewing.  (I can't find the first two parts, and I don't know if Martha had a different guest for those.)

PS - Please join me in praying for the repose of the souls of those killed in the theater shooting in Colorado, and for the healing and consolation of those injured, and of all family members, and for the conversion of the shooter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Prayer for rain

"O Lord, almighty God, who desist not from pouring out upon men a superabundance of heavenly dew and the substance of earth's richness, we render thanksgiving to Thy most loving Majesty for all Thy gifts.  We continue to beseech Thy clemency, that Thou would deign to bless, preserve, and defend from drought and from every injury the harvest of our fields, mercifully sending rain to nourish them.  Grant, likewise, that having had our desire for earthly needs filled, we may bask under Thy protection, praise Thy goodness and mercy without ceasing, and make use of temporal goods in such a way as not to lose eternal goods.  Through Christ our Lord, amen."

(adapted from Benedictionale, #107, Blessing of granary or harvests (Roman Ritual, Vol III))

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homily notes from Wednesday of 11th Week

I didn't write out my homily today and I won't be able to reproduce it verbatim, but here's a summary/approximation of what I said.  The Gospel is a good one, and I touch on it, but mostly I was digging into this line from the Psalm: "Love the Lord, all you His faithful ones!" (Ps 31:24).

I started by talking about the worldly view of love as primarily an emotion.  There's a grain of truth in this, of course; love does include our emotions, and we do feel differently about people and things we love.  But limiting love to an emotion imposes two grave dangers.  First, it justifies infidelity when the feeling changes; so I talked very briefly about the scourge of divorce and fornication.  Second, it justifies grave moral evils, like abortion, under a false sense of compassion - as if it could ever, somehow, help a mother to kill her child.

Then, against this worldly view, I gave the classic definition of St. Thomas Aquinas (I don't think I mentioned him by name), that love is the choice to prefer the other's good to one's own.  I stuck with the example of the love between a husband and a wife, and talked about how a good husband chooses his wife's good, even when he doesn't necessarily feel like it.  I mentioned material good, in working hard to support the family, and in taking care of his wife when she's sick.  I mentioned spiritual good, in working not to be a source of temptation to sin for her, and in praying for her, and so forth.

Then I added that love always has a sacrificial character to it.  In choosing to love my wife faithfully, I am making the choice not to love in that way any other woman.  It's a giving up of something that might feel good, for a much greater good.  (It ran through my mind as I was saying this, that the celibacy of the priesthood is another good example of the same kind of sacrifice; but that didn't make it off my tongue.)  I may have given another little example here, but I don't recall exactly what I said.

Then I dug even deeper into this character of fidelity and sacrifice, and talked about love as the image of God's love.  God's love, being perfect and infinite, spills over into creation, even to creating each of us as a unique, individual person.  The most complete form of human love, that between a husband and wife, spills over in the same way, in creating new life; this is a clear sign of the great mystery of love, that can't be reduced only to emotion.  Another sign of how human love is an image of God's love is the creation of beauty in art, architecture, and music, that we use liturgically to show and make real our love for God.  It's not mere adornment, but an objective quality of what we make to show our love for God.  (Beauty itself can't be reduced to an emotional response in an observer, but is objective, etc.)

Even more than creativity of life and beauty, divine love is reflected in human love in its radical freedom.  God is utterly free, being perfect and infinite.  We too are free, to choose to love, or to choose not to love.  In the Gospel (from the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus is teaching us how to choose, how to use our freedom for the best end.  When we pray, and fast, and give alms in a godly way, we give the best witness to the freedom, the creativity, the sacrifice and fidelity, of love for God and neighbor.    I concluded with a short exhortation to follow this teaching, to choose to love our spouses and our children with that kind of faithful love; to love our friends, co-workers, and neighbors; and above all, above all, to love God with faithful obedience to His Word.  I think my last sentence was, "The world cannot drown out this faithful witness, no matter how loudly it proclaims its lies; and the Word of God will not be silent, no matter how quietly we live it in this life."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Evangelization

Bishop Nickless's pastoral letter talks rather a lot about evangelization.  It's one of the five priorities he's pointing us to, and it's one that connects deeply with our diaconal vocation (proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially by joining Word and deed), and also with our family vocation as husbands and fathers (teaching the faith by word and example to family and neighbor). Catechesis, evangelization, and apologetics all go hand in hand in our likely fields of ministry.

St. Romuald was, in his day, a great and stirring example of exactly that.  His asceticism, his attractive preaching, and his zeal converted a great many, and attracted many to monastic life.  We can learn from him, of course, as from all the saints, but we suspect that, since our own culture despises Christian asceticism (although it doesn't despise Eastern asceticism - go figure that one), the example of a St. Romuald today wouldn't be nearly as attractive.

What is attractive today?  Obviously something is still working: here's an inspiring glimpse of what a fairly vigorous commitment to joyful evangelization looks like to six millennial Catholics.  And here's a fascinating interview with Austen Ivereigh, who founded a group of lay evangelists (and apologists) in England in 2010, coinciding with the Pope's visit, called "Catholic Voices," which is beginning to spread to the US as well. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pilgrimage to Chartres, in France

Courtesy of the New Liturgical Movement, here are a few pictures of a recent pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres.  It is, apparently, done annually, as a three-day hike.  (I once did a private pilgrimage from Angers to Chartres, about 200 km, by bicycle over four days.)  Question: Can we do something like this (even if of much shorter duration) in our own Diocese during the upcoming Year for Faith?













Many more pictures at the link above, and still more at the source linked to from there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two websites for religious liberty resources

I found this page today at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  (though now, several hours after opening the tab, I don't recall whence I reached it).  It looks like a very detailed set of resources about the HHS mandate, including a time-line and many links, etc.

The USCCB's set of resources is also worth keeping handy.

Prayer for the liberty of the Church, from the "Leonine Prayers" after Mass:  
O God, our refuge and our strength, look down with mercy upon the people who cry to Thee; and by the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in Thy mercy and goodness hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of the Holy Mother the Church. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fr. Barron on Evangelization

CNA has a summary of an interview with Fr. Robert Barron.  He was recently named Rector of Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.  In the interview he talks about what his experience with Word on Fire has taught him about evangelizing.  He makes four points: (1) Show ardor for the faith; (2) immerse yourself in Scripture and Tradition; (3) know the culture; and (4) use the new media.  I think this is an excellent checklist for each of us, not only for evangelization, but also for catechesis and liturgical preaching (I expect there are some great homilies circulating on You-tube).  The whole interview is interesting and worth a read.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An excellent example of what martyrdom really means, here and now - Updated 5/24

I saw this both on Facebook and on Fr. Z's WDTPRS.  The original is here. Quite apart from the specific issue of defending traditional marriage, which is of course crucial to a healthy society, this video shows what martyrdom in the United States today really looks like.  Christians who are willing to speak up in public for traditional social values and mores (i.e., in favor of the sanctity and dignity and necessity of life, marriage, children, virtue, and so forth) are being targeted with significant forms of moral violence ("haters," "bigots," etc., and the consequences in loss of friends, loss of jobs or opportunities, etc.), and even physical (as below) violence.  So far, the moral violence far outweighs the physical, but for how long?



This kind of public attitude in favor of forcibly silencing one view, merely because that view is deemed unacceptable by a self-appointed cultural elite, is of one piece with the more formal and deliberate (attempted) attacks on the rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion we're also currently seeing.  Popular intolerance of divergent views justifies and strengthens political attacks on religion; these in turn feed popular resentments, especially by trying to make people committed to God seem intransigent and unreasonable merely for their fidelity.  This kind of cultural/political "feedback loop" is obviously very dangerous, the more so as it becomes more impervious to reason.

For us as clergy (or as future clergy), the challenge is two-fold.  First, we need to cultivate and practice a fidelity to the Church and her teachings, and a courage for the proclamation of the Gospel, that will allow us to be God's true servants even in the face of such a cost.  We do no one a favor by changing or silencing the truths of salvation in Jesus Christ, even when others don't want to hear them.  Second, we need to proclaim the Gospel and defend its truth, without demonizing those who demonize us.  If we engage in similar moral violence, we appear hypocritical and undermine the apostolic mission we are trying to carry out.  Both of these challenges require that we seek deeper prayer, interior life, and union with Christ as our foundation.

Update (5/24) - Another, related, kind of martyrdom: a prohibition on being able to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass with prison inmates.  The story makes it sound like the priest is the primary victim, but in fact, those who are deprived of his priestly service are even more "martyred."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homily, Memorial of St. Athanasius (May 2)

This is more or less what I preached today, for the Memorial of St. Athanasius; it's not word for word, but I think it's pretty close.  The Gospel is John 12:44-50.

There are two kinds of unity we experience in this life. 

The first is the kind that Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel.  It is the unity of light with light, and against darkness.  It is the unity of God the Son with God the Father in their one divinity.  It is the unity of Jesus with us also, in His humanity.  It is the kind of unity we call "communion."

The invitation to communion with Jesus in the Church is given to everyone.  But, as Jesus says, not everyone accepts it.  Jesus does not condemn those who reject His word.  But in the same way that light is clearly divided from darkness, His word judges those who do not accept.  When a light is turned on, it is on, and there is no darkness; when the light is off, it is off, and there is no light.  This is how His word judges; either one accepts it, and is united with Christ, or not.

The second kind of union we experience in our families, towns, and nation.  It is a political and social unity, of the kind we call "community."

"Community" is not the same as "communion."  At its best, political or social unity can reflect the light of Christ from our communion with Him.  We want to have a Christian nation, built on the foundation of His light and His word.  We want to have Christian families, built on the same foundation.  But that foundation only comes from communion.  It's not inherently part of our communities.

So, when our communities go bad, they can go very bad indeed.  At their worst, when communities do not reflect the light of Christ, all the grave social evils of history, and of today, creep in: evils such as slavery, racism, abortion, the erosion of marriage, and the trampling of religious freedom.  These are the works of darkness, not of the light.

St. Athanasius, whose feast we celebrate today, is a great example to us of how to fight against the darkness in our communities.  He was a great champion of the light and the truth of Christ, when the government of his day, the Roman Emperor Constantius, adopted the falsehood of Arianism to promote political unity.  Arianism denies the full divinity of Christ; and so it denies that "whoever sees me, sees the one who sent me."  It denies the communion of the Son with the Father, and therefore of the Son with us.  Athanasius would not agree to this falsehood as a basis for public policy, and denounced it constantly - so much so that he was exiled from his see on five separate occasions, totally 17 years.  This was a heavy cost to pay, but he paid it willingly, because he kept his communion with Christ and the Church as his solid foundation.

Our own government today is doing exactly the same thing - attempting to build political unity on falsehood.  The HHS Mandate threatens our religious freedom.  It tries to play our community against our communion, which is always a sign of the darkness creeping in.  Our bishops are fighting against this, fighting to keep the light of Christ reflecting in our community, too. 

One of the things that supported St. Athanasius was the faith of his people.  I ask you to support our bishops.  You do this most and best just as you are right now - by coming to Holy Mass, and receiving the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist; by contemplating the Word of God, and praying on it at home; by living your faith courageously with your family, and at work, and in the world.  This is what we are called to by our baptism; and when we live this way, as holy people of God, we enable our bishops to be more courageous and forthright in defending the light and the truth of Christ.

May the example of St. Athanasius strengthen our faith in the light and the truth of Christ, and encourage us to live it with more zeal every day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Msgr Pope: Ruth as a type of the Church

Last fall, when our third-year cohort had Ecclesiology, we looked at various types of the Church in the OT. Msgr. Pope has another excellent one for our list, from the book of Ruth:  

Consider the following text and then let us she how Naomi pictures the Church. 

Naomi said to Ruth, Is not Boaz…a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. (Ruth 3:2-5) 

The advice that Naomi gives is quite in line with the instruction that our Mother the Church gives us. For in our poverty, and under the debt of our sin, the Church exhorts us to seek our “Boaz” who is Christ. Observe the advice given by Naomi and consider how it sounds so like our Mother the Church. Namoi advises: 

1. Be Firmly Convinced – Naomi says, Is not Boaz…a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Ruth knows her poverty, her pain and her debt. Naomi does too, and she exhorts Ruth to seek for Boaz, for he is near, and can help. Boaz is wealthy and thus has the power to save her, to draw her out of her overwhelming poverty. He has the capacity, unlike any other to cancel Ruth’s whole debt. She is to seek him at the threshing floor where he is preparing and providing the bread that will sustain her. She must go, firmly convinced that Boaz will love her and save her. 

And so too does the Church exhort us: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is. 55:6). Yes, there is one among us, a near kinsman, who is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11). His name is Jesus and he, as God, has the power to save and cancel our whole debt. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He is at the threshing floor of his Church preparing a banquet for you in the sight of your foe (Psalm 23:5). And the grain he is winnowing is the Eucharistic Bread of his own flesh. Yes, says the Church, Come to Jesus, firmly convinced of his love and power to save.

Go there to read the remaining five points he draws from this type. It's well worth it!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Msgr. Pope on the Church and the kerygma, for the Easter Octave

Msgr. Pope has an excellent post on when the Resurrection becomes the official teaching of the Church. The proclamation of Christ's Resurrection, of course, is part of the original kerygma (Jesus is Lord, Jesus lived and died as a real man, Jesus rose from the dead). That kernel of the faith still underlies everything the Church is and does.

Here's the heart of Msgr.'s point in this post:

So when does the resurrection become the official declaration of the early Church? Up till now the stories had been rejected by the apostles as either fanciful or untrue. Even the possible belief of one of the 12 (John) was not enough to cause an official declaration from the early Church. So, what causes this to change? It would seem that, after the early evening report by the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk, or some other purpose, and according to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Lk 24:34) the risen Lord appeared to Peter privately and prior to the other apostles. Peter then reports this to the others, and the resurrection moves from being doubted, to being the official declaration of the community, the Church. The official declaration is worded thus:

The Lord has truly risen indeed, he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

The resurrection is now officially declared. Notice, the world “truly” (some texts say “indeed”). It is now an officially attested fact that Jesus has risen. Neither Magdalene, nor the women in general, nor the disciples from Emmaus, nor even John, could make this declaration for the Church. It took the college of apostles in union with Peter to do this. Hence the dogma of the resurrection becomes so on very Catholic terms: The first bishops (the apostles) in union or in Council with the first Pope (Peter) make this solemn declaration of the faith.


I heartily agree; and the whole thing is well worth reading.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fr. Barron on why Catholics leave the Church

Fr. Barron's thoughts on the recent poll of lapsed Catholics.



The meat of his commentary here lines up very nicely with what we were all struck by a couple of years ago reading Card. Dolan's book about the priesthood (joy, kindness, availability). I would quibble about the phrase "customer relations;" parishioners aren't customers in any sense, and the relationships that ought to pertain among them, and between them and parish leaders, are significantly different than any commercial relationships we could think of. Yet he's quite right about there being a relationship, and about the need to follow up accordingly.